Human Rights Petition

There is a growing and unfortunate clamour for a roll-back on human rights commitments. These included some unfortunate comments from the Prime Minister over the weekend to the effect that he thought that human rights legislation had gone too far.

Personally I don’t think it has gone nearly far enough. One of the major goals the world needs us all to be working towards is a global culture where fairness reigns and people are all seen as having inalienable rights by virtue of their humanity alone.

I don’t happen to like e-petitions as a way of influencing governement but they are here and probably here to stay.

There is a new petition I’ve signed regarding Britain’s relationship to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Here’s the text:

We, the undersigned, believe that the growing clamour to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights is incredibly dangerous, and call for HM Government to resist all calls to do so.The ECHR was drafted in 1950 by members of the Council of Europe (the UK prominent among them), shortly after the worst example of genocide in human history, to protect the fundamental freedoms of people across Europe. Unlike the EU, nearly all countries in Europe are signatories to the ECHR and fall under the jurisdiction of the court it established. To withdraw would set the UK on a very lonely course. Much of the debate surrounding the ECHR focuses on the perceived benefits it brings to convicted prisoners as opposed to their victims. But the ECHR was set up to hold nation states to account for rights violations, not individuals (which is the job of domestic courts). Human rights should be fundamental, inviolable and universal; withdrawal won’t just harm prisoners, but all of us.

Though I feel vaguely disgusted that it is necessary to sign petitions about this, I’ve a horrible feeling that it is becoming necessary.

It can be signed here.


Now, there has been some real news worth noting in the week that is passed. The new Scottish Social Attitudes survey has been published. It is a huge survey of what people in Scotland think about a number of different things. The value of this research is that they keep asking the same questions over different surveys for a number of years. Thus you get an incredibly useful snapshot of what the people think which can be compared over time.

This year’s survey has just been published and the big headline news is the massive shift in attitudes towards gay people that are demonstrated by the survey.

This year’s survey shows that support for gay people is much higher than it was in previous years and the specific issue of opening marriage to same-sex couples is now supported by nearly two thirds of the population. The proportion of people supporting that policy is up from 41% in 2002 to 61% now. It is an enormous shift in views.

The survey also found that the group most resistant to supporting that policy is the group of people who attend religious worship at least once a week. There is far less corrolation between anti-gay views and people who go to worship less often than there is between the weekly worshippers. In other words, our problem is the pious.

There’s a mission issue there, actually. One interpretation of those figures is that the people who might be most likely to come to church more may well be being put off by the social attitudes on gay issues (which are becoming distinctively held by pious people) of those who do go. If your congregation puts out a negative message on gay people either from the pulpit or the negatively expressed prejudice of the most faithful then you may well be repelling not only gay people who might come but the most likely people who would otherwise come whatever their sexuality.

Yesterday during the Conversation which followed the Eucharist, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo asked me why I think this change in social attitudes has taken place. I named two things – firstly the courage of those who have come out. Rôle models are so important. At many levels of society there are gay and lesbian people willing to come out and be known. (The social attitudes survey shows that if someone believes they know a gay person their attidudes are much likely to be more accepting than if they don’t). Secondly, the establishment of Civil Partnerships has given people new positive images of gay people. Whereas once gay people were defined in people’s minds by what they did (or more likely were imagined to do) in bed, all of a sudden there is a new visual narrative. Cakes, rings, friends, family and joy have replaced other mental images. I’m not arguing that is liberation – it isn’t. It is conformity to a rather conservative mindset. However, right now in our history, it has been an incredibly important part of what has shifted people’s attitudes.

Thinking about this question a day later, I’d add a further answer. Thirdly, I’d say, the other big thing that has led to things changing is straight people being willing come out. The biggest shift in the last five years or so that I can think of is the emergence of straight allies unwilling to put up with prejudice against their gay friends, family members and colleagues. There have always been wonderful straight allies. But in recent years their numbers have blossomed. Straight people being willing to come out as straight allies and stand up to prejudice is a big part of the story.

A couple of years ago, I came to the view that the thing to concentrate on in the struggle was changing attitudes in society rather than the church. The time may be coming to think again about helping church folk to catch up with what God and good-hearted people are up to in the world. The problem, after all, is  the pious.

For now though, a time to celebrate an massive shift in Scottish social attitudes. And remember, if it can be achieved on this issue, it can be achived on all the rest too.